Our favorite quarantine-style reality competition is back. This Wednesday, Netflix released the first four episodes of the second season of The Circle. Last year, we saw Dallas native Chris Sapphire become an audience favorite by charming us with his vibrant, luminous personality. He took fourth place, but was a winner in our hearts.
This season has two Dallasites among the eight members of The Circle seeking a $100,000 prize by competing as themselves or social media alter egos.
In the first episode, we are introduced to Lee Swift and Terilisha, who only goes by her first name. Terilisha, 34, competes as herself, while Swift, who's 58, plays as a 24-year-old named River.
Swift watched the first season of The Circle during the early phases of COVID while in quarantine. He and his niece and nephew would then chat about it over Zoom. Like many of us, Swift became obsessed with the show, prompting him to submit an application for the second season.
“I sent all my information up,” he says. “And then after I did that, they said, ‘OK, now send us a video,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I don't want to do that.’"
Swift says he waited about a month and a half, and finally got an email, which he recalls said something along the lines of "Hey, send us your video, we're interested."
"And I thought it was automated," Swift says. "Well, one day I finally said, ‘Oh, I'll just get my phone and do something,' so I did about two minutes of all the things they wanted me to do. I uploaded it and the very next day, I got a call and started the casting process.’”
Swift says the most challenging part about posing as someone more than half his age was maintaining a knowledge of “pop culture, hashtags and internet speak.” To prepare for the show, his 20-year-old niece gave him three pages of notes breaking down internet lingo, with references to memes and cultural trends.
The Circle isn’t the first time Swift has pretended to be someone else. In real life, he is an author who has written gay romance novels under the pen name Kris Cook. He's also written several books under a female pseudonym, though he can't share the name due to a strict nondisclosure agreement. Going into The Circle, Swift believed this would be the perfect opportunity to explore a new identity.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I've always had these pen names. What if I breathed life into a new character?,” Swift says. ”I was concerned if I would be relatable. Would they nix me right away? ‘Oh, that’s the old guy, let's get rid of him.’ Now looking back, and how I've connected with all these kids, I think going in as myself would have been fun, I think it would’ve worked.”
Swift loves the local art and dining scene and enjoys his Dallas nights out on Cedar Springs, specifically at JR’s and The Round Up.
Before The Circle, Swift mostly used social media to promote his books, but during filming, he found a love for connecting with others online. As an older gay man, seeing how social media brings people together gives him hope for the future.
“I came in, and I wasn’t very social media savvy,” Swift says. “I guess I was fearful of it, to be honest, but I realize I wish I had had social media when I was a 13-year-old gay kid in West Texas, because I felt very alone. But social media allows you to connect, and you can find people that inspire you. You can find that you aren't alone. There are people that are similar to you, and I think that's the most amazing thing about social media.”
Since filming concluded, Swift has remained good friends with fellow Dallasite Terilisha, although Terilisha didn’t know his true identity until the end. As you will see on The Circle, Terilisha plays the game well through her ability to be perceptive, analyzing every person’s message and profile throughout the series.
True to her logical nature, Terilisha is an alumna of University of North Texas with a double degree in math and science. As a teacher, she wants all of her students to know that being smart is cool.
“I see a lot of times, especially in high school, students want to dumb down their smartness, so they don't look smart,” Terilisha says. “Being able to be the one to say being smart is cool, and seeing them branch out and open up is fulfilling to me.”
Terilisha is also a recording artist who enjoys hanging out in Deep Ellum and would never miss the State Fair.
Terlisha says The Circle’s cameras were rolling 24/7 during filming. Within the first four episodes, we see Terilisha get into a heated discussion about loyalty with Los Angeles native competitor Savannah. Courtney, also from L.A., takes Savannah’s side. When Terilisha launches chats with them to attempt to make peace, neither Savannah or Courtney are having it.
While this rivalry may keep viewers at the edge of their seats, Terilisha assures us that she has nothing but love for her castmates, adding that they talk every day in a group chat.
“We realize it’s a game,” she says. “If we can make friends, then great, but if not, then we’ll try to make them afterward.”
As can be seen on the show, Terilisha values loyalty, which is something she seeks in real-life friends. Plus, she's someone who enjoys having a good time.
“I can’t have a boring friend!” she says.
The next four episodes of The Circle will stream on Wednesday, April 21, with the following four to premiere on April 28 and the season finale on May 5. We’ll have to wait three more weeks to see whether Swift or Terilisha take home the grand prize, but if she wins, Terilisha says she plans to put the money toward her nonprofit, Terilisha’s Touch, to provide meals for homeless people during the Thanksgiving season.
In the future, she plans to continue working on her music, and hopes to maintain a relationship with Netflix and appear in more projects.
“I think it would be cool to show people my personality outside of a competition,” Terilisha says. “And maybe continue acting. I was acting before The Circle and would love to grow in that arena as well. I’m going to be a triple threat.”
Throughout the process of filming, both cast members say they learned the value of being authentic.
“The biggest thing I learned was to stay true to who I am,” Terilisha says. “But also be aware. Don't trust everybody too well. They might be a joker.”
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